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Arts & Entertainment

Shooting Low-Budget Films

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 11:41 min

Discover Martin's experience with low-budget filmmaking collaborating with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Learn how to creatively get the shots you need, even under tight budget and schedule constraints.

Martin Scorsese
Teaches Filmmaking
In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.
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I felt that I had to learn how to make a picture faster, cheaper, and still have, still have the energy in the film. In fact, go further with a certain kind of camera move and cutting and this sort of thing. And when I first met Michael Ballhaus in-- Having had gone through a series of films up to about 1981, up to King of Comedy, and sort of the bottom fell out of everything after that. But I did meet Michael when we were preparing The Last Temptation of Christ in 1983 and I'd seen his Fassbender films that he had shot. And I wanted a sense of freedom with the camera again and freedom with light. In a sense, I felt that with the bigger productions from-- as this is not the director's of photography's issue. This had to do with how a film is made, the amount of people, the amount of equipment I wanted to get something trimmer and faster, you know. And so I felt I should go back to independent style of film making. And I saw the Fassbender pictures and then I followed up on that with meeting Michael. And we were going to make Last Temptation, but by the end of the year, the film fell through and we were out in the diaspora, so to speak, out of Hollywood, everywhere. And couldn't get a picture made. But finally, it was time to start all over again I felt. And we stumbled upon, I think it was Amy Robinson and Griffin Dunne gave me the script of After Hours . And so I thought this was a good opportunity to try to learn how to make a picture again and also a project, of course, that I really responded to because of the nature of the story and the character being out of his element and being in a place where he couldn't believe anyone or anything, and he's sort of trapped. And I thought this was-- That's the way I felt, myself, at the time. And so I called on Michael again there. And that's the first time we really had the ability to work together. We shot it in 40 nights, averaging about 25 to 26 setups a night. And so Michael would be on the set and it was you know, downtown somewhere in the old Soho, which, at that time, was really isolated at night. There was nobody there. And I'd get there and I'd be kind of grumpy, concerned about getting everything done, proving to myself I can get something shot in a more efficient manner that still had everything I wanted. I'm not quite sure of this particular scene. And he would look at me and says, ah, but tonight, tonight we do the shot that begins on the chair, tracks up, goes around the face, comes over to the telephone, goes to the jukebox. I says, oh, you're right, you're right. Yeah, yeah, that's something-- See, we don't do it first. No, no. Of course not. We're going to do it a little later because I have certain lighting issues. OK. OK. But he gave me something to look forward to and brought back the excitement and the love of the process, you know. He said, look, we're going t...

Study with Scorsese

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I am very pleased with what I have learned. As a writer I took this class to learn about filmmaking to help me understand what a director does in his or her work to help me become better at my work. I know that I will become successful due to Martin Scorsese training. Thank you Masterclass.

I have more confidence in finding new ways to film, is not just one way is your own way .

Amazing and inspirational in every possible way!

Martin's course offered a valuable insight into his thinking process and procedure for making his excellent movies. Thank you, Martin.


Antonia T.

"I thought this was a good opportunity to try to learn how to make a picture again". Wonderful.

A Z.

I can definitely use more visual from the actual films, scenes and shots that he talks about.

Teddy W.

Filmmakers always obsess the budget. But you must understand you will never have enough money to make a perfect picture. You have to make a picture under any limited situation. Create unlimited possibilities under limited conditions. So don't let the budget stop you making a picture. Find a way to get what you want.

A fellow student

How many of you are actually directing the movie now after taking these MASTERCLASS sessions

Pétainguy M.

Last Temptation of Christ was difficult may be because of actors mind and their conception of religion ... more than low budget ? I experienced how inner resistances could make work more difficult ...

Monique B.

I took 10 months off from this course to direct and produce my first play and the lessons I learned from this class has been extremely helpful - especially the lesson on working with actors. I can't think of a better teacher than Scorsese. Wow! Anyway it's good to be back here in class. The same problems Scorsese experienced with actors and budget restraints are the same problems I faced. I had to replace an actor after rehearsal started because the actor I hired never showed up nor gave me the heads up that she wanted to quit the project. As far as getting funding, George Lucas once mentioned in an interview he had to finance his first short film by himself. So I figure I had to do the same. So I saved up 13 - 50 % of my paycheck bi-weekly for 2 years - working at a job that I hate (getting bullied and verbally abused by customers). Then, when it was time to put the play on, the play made no profit (I got 10% back of my initial investment). I don't regret it. Now I am working on my first feature film (a 90 minute animated movie). And if this film makes no money either - then so be it.

Eileen S.

Not even Scorsese can get enough funding for some of his projects. And he's freaking SCORSESE!

Jo E.

Great Lesson…! Financing is important...time is money...! When you can be efficient and still get a quality film made that says a lot...!


All due respect, a 40 day schedule is "low budget?" Come on. And while I'm here, where was the research for Last Temptation? The depiction of crucifixion here is comical and idiotic. Even in regards to filmmaking and story telling. Real crucifixion was slow torture. The arms were completely spread out and the body was fully extended. Nails were put in the hands and feet for two reasons, the obvious, but also to make breathing extremely difficult. The person had to push up on his feet or hands in order to take a breath. The nails in the hands and feet made the simple act of breathing excruciating. Eventually, the person would not be able to hold up the weight of their own body. Crucifixion was very slow suffocation. They had them seated!

Avery D.

Another fantastic insight! It's comforting to know that even Mr. Scorsese has to accept the shots that he gets, remember to have fun, and make the best of the situation. I hope to take this advice into my next creative venture!